Home Office apologises for lack of consultation on barracks housing for migrants

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The Home Office has apologised for a lack of consultation over plans to house migrants at a military barracks in Kent.

About 400 people will be housed at Napier Barracks in Folkestone as the Government struggles to find beds for large numbers of migrants arriving on small boats.

The converted military facility is set to house more people than any other Home Office "initial accommodation site".

More details about the controversial plans for the Kent barracks emerged at a virtual public meeting on Friday, held in response to concerns from the local community.

Concerns were also raised about "far right influencers" spreading misinformation on social media about the issue.

Nearly 7,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK aboard small boats in 2020, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

Deborah Chittenden, director of borders, immigration and citizenship system for the Home Office, said it was "hugely unfortunate" there had not been better consultation over the plans.

"I accept that the initial engagement was not what we want and I apologise for that, it was genuinely all done at pace."

Two Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites were offered as part of an "emergency response" to the severe shortage of suitable accommodation.

She added: "At the moment the system has been blocked with Covid.

"There are not very many options available that can be stood up in essentially what was less than two weeks."

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The migrants arriving at Napier Barracks have been staying in hotels in London and Luton, and have already spent the mandatory two weeks in quarantine for people arriving from France.

All those staying at Napier Barracks will be single males, the meeting heard, an update on previous suggestions that families would also be housed there.

Ms Chittenden said: "These asylum seekers are just ordinary people like you and me and they are here seeking protection.

"Many of them have risked their lives to get here, they are not criminals and they are not being detained."

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They will be provided with all meals and toiletries and will have access to leisure and exercise facilities, but will get no cash allowance, the meeting was told.

The bill for running the site, including paying a qualified security team and looking after those living at the barracks, is being met by the Home Office.

Occupants are free to leave the site if they want to but are obliged to be back by 10pm.

About 90 hotels across the country are also being used to house migrants as the Home Office faces a daily challenge to find enough beds, Ms Chittenden told the meeting.

"We have significant numbers of people in hotels at the moment.

"They are not great value for the taxpayer, however we have to use them because they are available accommodation."

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Nick Wilkinson, Prevent and Channel strategic manager for Kent County Council, raised concerns over "far right influencers".

He told the meeting: "We have all identified this afternoon, and we do understand, that asylum seekers are vulnerable people, and I personally find it continually frustrating to see the derogatory and hateful comments which are placed on social media.

"It's important for us all to understand that far right influencers from areas outside of Folkestone and our local community are continually attempting to influence the views of you and our local community by placing comments on social media that are clearly prejudicial, biased and contain misinformation."

Local MP Damian Collins said the situation with Napier Barracks has given him and others "a great deal of cause for concern".

He said: "I do not support this decision, I don't think this is a good idea, I don't want it to happen.

"But if there is nothing we can do about that then I and the council and everyone else have to do everything we can to make a success of it."

Closing the meeting, David Monk, leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, said: "We are a tolerant society, the people of Folkestone are nice people and I am sure it will work out all right in the end."